>opal-d by nomadi productions

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 15 jun 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


With multimedia and its hype ruling the roost in contemporary performance art, it is a relief to witness a production that does not totally fall prey to narcissistic stagecraft. Layering visual and aural artistry, OPAL-D presents audiences with a physical and metaphysical seascape of colours and sound - and it's well worth diving into.

Commissioned by the Dance Arena Festival held in Helsinki in 2000, OPAL-D is a close collaboration between dance, visual and media art, and sound material. Choreographer Arja Raatikainen successfully explores the idea of gesamtkunstwerk, where movement, sound, set, lighting and costume design all support one another. However, such a level of cohesiveness was regrettably absent between the two dancers on stage. In terms of timing and even physicality, Raatikainen and Soini show adequate compatibility. But perhaps due to the mechanical nature of the body movements designed to suit the digitalised theme, Raatikainen and Soini's is a pas de deux lacking in chemistry.

>>'OPAL-D provokes the question - does a sophisticated multimedia work inevitably pay less attention to details than a traditional single-medium performing art?'

There are some segments that clearly demonstrate higher sensitivity than others, and leave deeper impressions even though they may not be the most technically demanding. For example in the opening scene, different hues of light reflect on a dancer's body, whose protracted, 90-degree-angled movements reveal the beauty of human bodies in tandem with our physical world. Amidst the sound of running water, spots of light then move like fireflies on a screen before they melt languidly into the image of waves.

The much talked-about device of having water lining the stage feels over-rated at times. While it does add ambience to the stage presentation, real fluidity can only be felt when the choreography engages effectively with the external surroundings. This occurs in several floor movements when direct contact with the water draws beautiful ripples, and in another scene when the two dancers lie on their stomachs, arching their backs almost like swans.

Unfortunately, such original interpretations are not consistently present throughout OPAL-D, as there are scenes clearly lacking in imagination. For example, at one point, Soini leaves the stage to retrieve a plastic sheet, in which she then envelops herself, depicting without a doubt the metaphor of birth and renewal. At another, the two dancers walk across the stage in a random fashion paralleling a video showing of pedestrians in a busy city.

Nevertheless, OPAL-D must be duly credited for its uncompromising visual conceptualisation. Using both pre-recorded and digitally manipulated videos, the media-artist takes an overhead view of the dancers' movements and changes the screen into a giant kaleidoscope of incredible shapes and colours. Towards the end, panels that were originally part of the flat screen start to swivel and rotate, creating a chaotic disruption in the background, which the dancers in the foreground accentuate with their hastened steps. This brings OPAL-D to a decisive climax. The dancers exit the stage while the screen leaves us with a lingering image of a lone figure still drawing circles in the water with slow rond de jambs.

All in all, OPAL-D is a spectacular feast in terms of visual and aural aplomb. However it provokes the question - does a sophisticated multimedia work inevitably pay less attention to details than a traditional single-medium performing art?